Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"If everything you think you know makes your life unbearable, would you change?"

Today I went to SVSU to deal with some paperwork leftover from my days as editor-in-chief of Cardinal Sins.

Fall classes at Wayne State haven't started yet. But today was the first day of classes at SVSU. So the campus was crowded, and I got to catch up with quite a few of my favorite people.

As I drove up to Saginaw, I guessed that when I got there, one of two things would happen:

1) I'd instantly regret my decision to transfer, OR
2) I'd feel relieved at no longer being enrolled there.

I figured there'd be no in-between. And I was right about that. #2 happened. :-)

The best part was that I talked to a few former professors, and all of them were overwhelmingly supportive of my decision to transfer, and happy/excited for me as well. It made me feel really good about everything.

This is the first time I've really allowed myself to feel excited about all these changes. I've spent so much time explaining to people that yes, I'm transferring colleges after three years, and no, I'm not a failure, that I'd almost forgotten that this is something to be happy about, not ashamed of.

Shame on all you haters for not having the guts to question whether what you're doing is right.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I'm a young feminist

Today is the "THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" blog carnival. For a list of participating blogs, click here.

I've spent the morning reading others' posts. It's really refreshing: Keep it up, everyone.

And now it's time for my contribution:

I'll begin with an excerpt from an entry I posted on the 37th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, because I think it sums up why I identify as a feminist.

I received an email today from Cecile Richards, via Planned Parenthood's mailing list. In her message, she mentioned that "...this anniversary is always tinged with gratitude and immense responsibility." I feel the same way.

I'm grateful for the progress we've made: when Obama was elected, he overturned the global gag rule and cut funding for abstinence-only sex "education" programs.

But we can't take this freedom for granted; I certainly don't, even though I (like many women I know) am too young to remember a time when abortion was illegal in the US. And that's where my huge sense of responsibility comes in. This is still relevant: the recent death of Dr. Tiller and the Stupak Amendment both serve as proof of that.

So today I'm celebrating Roe while reminding myself (and anyone who might read this) that the fight isn't over, even 37 years later, and if we take what we have for granted, we might lose it.

The keyword is responsibility. I can apply it to everything in regard to feminism: reproductive health, education, and the right to vote (Women's Equality Day--which commemorates the anniversary of the 19th Amendment--was yesterday, by the way). I recognize that although I was born with these rights, many women were not. If I don't bother to exercise them, then I'm showing disrespect to the women who fought so hard to earn those for me.

Another thing: Last fall, one of my professors at SVSU pointed out that things don't always get better for women. They get better, and then sometimes they get worse. The example she gave was that there were more women enrolled in colleges in the US in the 1920s than in the 1950s.

If there aren't people who care enough to protect what we've gained, we'll lose it.

And that is just one of many reasons why I identify as a feminist. It has never occurred to me to think of feminism as a "dirty word." And so it surprised me to find out that quite a few people (not necessarily young people, mind you--I'll get to that), seem put off by the fact that I consider myself a feminist.

A few months ago, I added my aunt as a friend on Facebook. She took issue with some of my more politically-charged posts, and showed them to my grandmother, who called my mom and urged her to intervene, lest I "turn into one of those smelly feminists."

My mom is a wonderful person. We don't agree on a lot of things, but we do communicate. She told my grandmother that if she was really so concerned about my "feminism thing," she ought to just give me a call and talk to me about it herself.

My guess is that my grandmother (who was born in 1940) doesn't like feminism because in the 1960s and '70s, when she was raising children, a lot of women were working toward becoming more than just wives/mothers. And my grandmother chose to be stay-at-home mom, so probably felt that the feminist movement didn't respect her lifestyle.

Fair enough. But I'd love to show her how feminism has evolved. My mom's a stay-at-home mom, too. And I appreciate her immensely for choosing to do that for my sister and me.

But my grandmother never called me. So we haven't talked about it.

And that brings me to this: It's incredibly important for women of different generations to communicate with each other. And we're not doing enough of that. And so now there are older women who believe that young feminists don't exist.

And it depresses me (especially since I do interact with quite a few older feminists who know where I stand). As a young feminist, I have a great deal of respect for the women who came before me, and deeply appreciate their efforts. It'd be nice to have that reciprocated.

We're young, we're here, and we're working.

Feminism is big. It isn't just the wage gap or abortion rights or sexism in the media. It's all of those things and more. And it's impossible for one person to care deeply about all of those feminist issues and pour loads of energy into every single one of them. If we each tackle something we care deeply about, and then communicate with others to see what they're working on, not only will we accomplish more, but we'll have a better understanding of each other, and most importantly, will be able to see that we do indeed have very common goals.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Those books you read in fifth grade? They're a bigger deal than you thought they were.

Right now, I'm about 450 pages into _A People's History of the United States_ by Howard Zinn. It's been on my to-read list since my junior year of high school. And after Zinn passed away this past January, I decided that I needed to get with the program and read it already. And so, here I am.

It's making me want to throw things (which means its doing its job). Thing is, it started to make me feel so sad/angry/anxious that today, I decided to take a break and read a couple of YA books.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have a huge soft spot for YA literature. My favorite YA author (perhaps my favorite author of all time, actually) is Han Nolan, whose writing I admire because not only is she unafraid to tackle political topics, but she does so very subtly. And although she writes for a younger audience, she does not underestimate her readers. Her books have really made me a better person.

Another favorite YA author of mine is Ann Rinaldi. I started reading her books when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. She writes historical fiction, and occasionally borders on nonfiction: One of her novels, _Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbon_, tells the story of Phillis Wheatley.

Reading one of her books today, I began to think about what I read now, and how it isn't all that different from what I read when I was younger, and how all of that has ultimately played a huge, huge, HUGE role in the decisions I've made in regard to my education.

English was always my favorite subject in school. And I rocked it. At the eighth grade "graduation" ceremony, I was presented with an award from the English department (I still have the plaque in my bedroom). In high school, I took honors/AP English classes, and worked as the editor-in-chief of my school's art/literary magazine. And then I got to college, majored in creative writing, and worked as the editor-in-chief of the art/literary magazine there, too.

And then I started to question whether it was really what I wanted to pursue. It was a really difficult question to ask myself, because my love of English/writing was the one thing I had always been sure of.

I couldn't deny my other interests, though. As much as I loved most of my English classes, the best class I've ever taken at SVSU was a 100-level history class I took to fulfill a gen ed requirement. I hadn't expected to get much out of it. It was just a history of the United States, post Civil War to the present. I took it because I thought it'd be a blow off.

But it blew my mind. It made me question capitalism, which was a real ground-shaker for me, having grown up in Grosse Pointe. I got a B in the class, and I had to work my ass off for that B. I was glad to work my ass off for that B. I had so much fun.

That same semester, I took a literature course called Great Lakes Writers (also to fill a gen ed requirement, actually). I figured, "Okay. We'll read some books written by people from Michigan." And that's exactly what happened. But what I really loved about it was the that it was the first time I was conscious of putting what I read into a larger, more political context. We read _them_ by Joyce Carol Oates, which led to a discussion about social class. We read some Hemingway, and I got to rip him to shreds for being a misogynist. And to top it all off: We watched two Michael Moore documentaries. Sha-zam.

That was the best semester ever. Afterward, I went back to taking writing courses. It went well for the most part, but I couldn't shake my desire to delve into politics/history. I continued on as a creative writing major, figuring that since English had always been my favorite subject, that was the right thing to do.

It wasn't. By the beginning of my third year at SVSU, I was unhappy, mostly because I was doing well in my field, and therefore felt like it was too late to tell anyone that I didn't think it was the right field for me anymore. I lacked the ambition I'd had before, and couldn't afford that, because by that point, I was in charge of the art/literary journal.

So I kept on, and it made me crazy. My heart just wasn't in it, and it really began to show.

A lot of electives for the creative writing major are literature courses. So I wound up enrolled in quite a few of those. One class in particular was awesome: When one of my friends looked through my notes, she actually thought they were for a history class. It had the potential to surpass History 100C as the best class I'd ever taken, but by that point, I was in the midst of a full-blown freak out, and therefore, was too distracted to get much out of it.

I still love English. I love it so much that I couldn't bring myself to major in anything else once I decided to transfer to Wayne State (even though a huge reason for my transferring to a school bigger than SVSU was the chance to take more specialized classes in other fields).

But what I failed to realize--until earlier today, as I was reading YA books--is that literature is what gave me my interest in politics/history in the first place.

I didn't know what feminism was--let alone identify as a feminist--when I first picked up an Ann Rinaldi book ten or eleven years ago. But I know I loved her strong female protagonists.

And I wasn't aware of what was going around me politically--much less have an opinion about any of it--when I started reading Han Nolan's books. I just agreed with her humanism. It affected me, and stayed with me. It had a tremendous impact on my outlook.

I find this little epiphany of mine hugely comforting. It was really hard for me to accept that I might not be as in love with English as I had once been.

I still am. It's just a bigger field now, and I'm a bigger person.

Hear me roar. :-)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's show 'em!

The New York Times just keeps filling me with rage. A couple of people over there (Gail Collins and Stacy Schiff) have declared repeatedly that young feminists don't exist.

Um, really? Because I exist.

And I have a blog. If you're a young feminist with a blog, you should participate in the "THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" blog carnival.

Interested? Here's what you need to do. Click here. Leave a comment with your blog name and URL. And then add this badge to your page. (I've already added it; look to the right.) A list of participating blogs will be posted to "Fair and Feminist" early Friday morning, August 27.

I think this is great. In April of 2009, I had the opportunity to see Gloria Steinem speak at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, Michigan. Afterward, an older woman asked, "Why don't young people care about feminism?"

I had come with a bunch of fellow undergraduates on a bus from Saginaw, so we were all a little annoyed by that comment. A bunch of us raised our hands and said, "Um. We're here, and we care."

That situation has repeated itself many times over. We're here. We've been here for quite some time. And we're not going anywhere. We've been waiting for you to take notice.

Talk to us, not about us. It's the first step to accomplishing anything.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

20-something. Full of rage, not flaws.

A few days ago, someone posted to Facebook this article from the New York Times, titled "What is it About 20-Somethings?"

A thread of really great comments followed. The general consensus was that for as long as the article is, it leaves out a lot.

As a 20-something who has recently transferred colleges and moved back into her parents' house, I found it irritating: well-intentioned, maybe, but ultimately, patronizing.

Reading it, I was reminded of a psychology class I took at SVSU: personality theory. And okay, theorists across all disciplines will try to refute others' theories with their own. But the thing I noticed with this class in particular was that the theories didn't differ all that much: one psychologist would come up with an idea of how we ought to progress up some sort of "ladder" toward adulthood. And then another psychologist would come along, disagree, and suggest we climb his ladder instead.

I say to hell with ladders: We're all born, and we all die. But otherwise? Our experiences differ greatly depending upon our circumstances. Not only do we not all move at the same pace, we don't all go up. We criss-cross and go sideways. And sometimes that's because of conscious decisions we make, but often times, factors that are beyond our control come into play as well.

A topic that's been coming up a lot in the lives of my 20-something friends (female, especially) is marriage. Women seem to be under greater pressure to "hurry up and get married" than men, probably because of the whole "biological clock" thing. Two of my friends, both 26, are at different places in life (because they're doing very different things with their lives--what a concept). One's in grad school and single. The other is a high school teacher who's getting married in the fall. And yet, because they're the same age, their families' wishes for them are similar: Single grad student's family hopes she'll find a boyfriend soon; engaged high school teacher's family is relieved she's "finally" getting married.

So there's enough pressure--from society, from family, and from the voices in our own heads--to "succeed" without the New York Times tossing its blame game into the mix, no matter what the situation might be.

I'm 21. I spent three years at SVSU before deciding to transfer to Wayne State/move in with my parents. I've been rather tight-lipped about it. And that's because I've learned the hard way that people think transferring after three years is downright weird--a sign of failure, a lack of direction. Oh, the horror.

If my reasons for transferring don't make sense to you, I can live with that. But know that leaving was what made sense to me. I don't understand why people think it's okay to get all up in my grill about it just because I'm not doing things the way they did.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Hold your head up, you silly girl."

I have a lot on my mind lately, and don't know where to start. That said, this post will likely be all over the place. You've been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

I'll begin with some good (albeit belated) news: On August 4, California's Proposition 8 was deemed unconstitutional by Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker.

As I think I've mentioned before, I'm a total news junkie. I watch both CNN and the local news every day, follow various news sources on Twitter, and read whatever my friends post to Facebook, as well as articles in the papers I find lying around the house/campus. But the day Prop 8 was overturned, I happened to be out of town with a friend (more on that later), and therefore, wasn't near the TV or computer. I didn't hear about the ruling until the following day.

Figures. I tune out for a grand total of twenty-four hours, and just look what I miss!

But I'm so happy about this. And hopeful. Incredibly, incredibly hopeful.

And I guess this leads me to something else:

Despite the good news, I don't feel like I have much of a right to celebrate. I'm not contributing enough to the effort to better the world. I keep finding myself in situations where I can't decide whether it'd be best for me to shut up or speak out.

I'm pretty opinionated, but I know that trying to discuss particular topics with certain people would be futile, and choose not to waste my energy on such interactions.

And yet, as someone who believes deeply in diversity, and knows that achieving it is impossible without communication, I find it tremendously difficult to be quiet. By shutting up, I'm going against what I believe in. Yet by speaking out, I'm only pissing people off, because so many of them don't want to listen to what I have to say.

I think people are afraid to communicate because they assume that by accepting what I have to say, they're agreeing with it. That's not what I'm asking for. (We wouldn't be very diverse if we all thought the same way.) All I want is to be able to speak as loudly as those who get away with spouting off every day as if theirs is the only opinion that counts.

Earlier this month, I went to Memphis, Tennessee and Cleburne, Texas with a friend who wanted to visit some of her friends and relatives. Being in the South was one hell of a weird experience for me: Every little thing got on my nerves. I heard a song on a radio station down there that began: "Our houses are protected by the good lord and a gun." And all the way through Arkansas, I made a game out of counting bumper stickers that mentioned Jesus and/or Glenn Beck.

So here I am, telling people I believe in diversity, and yet, whenever I find myself surrounded by people whose mindset is different from mine, I want to be with people who think like I do.

And I've found myself in this situation many times: My decision to leave Saginaw was largely based on the fact that I felt like I was wasting too much of my energy defending what I believed in, instead of actually accomplishing anything.

And yet, I even find it difficult to communicate with members of my own family. My mom gets all up in arms whenever I mention that I'm not a fan of capitalism. My grandmother refuses to accept that I don't believe in God.

It's frustrating, because all I want is to be accepted, and yet how can I ask for that when I can't seem to accept others for who they are?

It's all way more complicated than it needs to be.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A letter to who I was a year ago

Admit it. You're scared shitless.

You're at the top of your game, and you're afraid you'll fuck it up.

Well, guess what? You're going to fuck it up. Epically. Or at least, that's what it'll look like on paper. Your GPA will go down the drain. You'll cry in front of people you really don't want to cry in front of. (You'll even end sentences on prepositions. For shame! Some editor you are.)

You'll meet a few people who will force you to admit that there really are huge douchebags in this world. You'll fight it, because you don't want to believe that. You're a lover, not a hater. But in the end, you'll have to confront people who will fail to respect your boundaries. And because it'll be an entirely new experience for you, you will not handle it all that well. You won't succeed. People will continue to step all over you. And that won't make you feel any better about things.

You're going to feel like shit for a long time.

But not forever. And after spending so much time outside your comfort zone, you'll get used to the idea of being away from yourself. You will meet a side of yourself you never knew existed before. You won't know whether to trust her at first: she's so unlike you. She won't write. And she'll tell a couple of the aforementioned douchebags that they're douchebags. She will be mean. And it will work. And that will break your heart.

But it'll be the best thing that ever happened to you. And the most terrifying, the most painful. And you're going to hate yourself a little bit. Okay, a lot. But it's all just part of getting out of your comfort zone. You're going to give this hatin' thing a try. And you won't like it one bit. But you're going to have to learn how to deal with it.

And this is how you'll deal with it: You'll leave. You won't ask for anyone's opinion. You'll just do it because you'll know it's what you need to do. You will do this over and over again. You'll think you're being selfish, and you might be, but so what? You won't like the side of you that can't follow through with anything. But the side of you that can't follow through with anything is also the side of you that will get you out of this mess (and that one, and that one too): by dragging you out, by forcing you to leave right in the middle of something, several times over.

You'll beat yourself up because you'll think you can't handle it. But it's not that you can't handle it. It's just that you'll learn not to tolerate certain things from people. And that's one of the best things about you. If someone calls you a "feisty bitch" (and someone will), take it as a compliment. Make it into fuel, and go somewhere, even if you get lost. Because you will get lost: if you don't, you're not doing it right.

Hell, I don't know where I'm at in life. All I know is that I'm going somewhere.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Go vote!

I'm voting in the Michigan primaries today. :-) So should you. If you need to know where to vote, click here.

See ya at the polls.